What got me thinking about this was a great line I heard recently, about Queens being the new Brooklyn. That reminded me of a line that comforted me a lot a couple years back, about 60 being the new 30. And that made me think about how Archie Goodwin in the Nero Wolfe books used to refer to women he considered slightly over the hill as "on the shady side of 30." I suspect I'm not alone in finding the 20s the less interesting side of 30, and hardly anybody thinks 35 or even 40 ushers in middle age nowadays. But that doesn't mean I read or write only characters as old as I am.

So writers, how do you choose the age of your protagonists? And readers, what age characters do you like to read about? My protagonist is in his 40s for a number of reasons. I wanted him to have missed Viet Nam but be aware of the Sixties. I wanted him to be old enough to have done many years of hard drinking but young enough to get sober, choose a new career, and start over without committing male menopause. His male sidekick had to be the same age, because they were childhood friends. The female sidekick had to be younger, because I want her biological clock to start ticking loudly a few books down the road.

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Comment by NL Gassert on February 13, 2008 at 7:08am
My protagonist is 33. His live-in boyfriend is 23.

It just sort of happened that way. I needed a man who had had a good, solid career, then lost it due to some shady circumstances. He’s rebuilding his life. I wanted to partner him with a young man in his early twenties, so he couldn’t be much older than mid-30s himself. At some point during the revision process it occurred to me that I am now older than my protagonist :-)
Comment by Mari Sloan on January 1, 2008 at 4:28pm
When I began Beaufort Falls I had no idea exactly how old my adults were. They were just that...adults..you know, older than 25, younger than 50. Of course one of my main characters is dead and died on her 21st birthday so she's not what I would really consider an adult. Except that she is, and she's one powerful spirit...wonderfully strong and motivated, a real mother and a force to not just be reckoned with but with a determination that can move mountains. My children are tough, too...survivers, beautiful and sensitive and mature beyond their years.

My villians are mid life, and I have two (how is that for rejecting a formula)...somewhere bewtween 30 and 40...but age is relative. And relatives are trouble in the Deep South.

Character comes WAY before age...there is no formula...
(Ahhh.campagne on New Years Eve...VERY liberating.) My sweet old man is telling me that I am the hottest old woman in the universe and life is VERY good.

Fifty is no longer adult. We are working our way to the other side.

:-) Mari
Comment by Jackie Houchin on August 25, 2007 at 6:23pm
Oops, I forgot my women's novel. Three protagonists with voices of three sisters, ten years apart (each telling her own story). Lawyer, herbalist, photographer. I consider myself like the youngest, although I'm actually older than the oldest.
Comment by Jackie Houchin on August 25, 2007 at 6:19pm
Well, my protagonists are kids, because I write in the Juvenile age group (8-12) Molly Duncan, my junior detective is 13, Kim Ling, my junior newspaper column writer is 10, and Annie Black, my photographer-sleuth is 11. All girls, but having some guy sidekicks too.
Comment by Dana King on August 21, 2007 at 1:54pm
My as yet unpublished detective just turned 40. I wanted him to have been around long enough to have had several different types of experience, yet still be young enough to reasonably get himself out of the trouble I get him into.
Comment by gracebrophy on August 10, 2007 at 9:43am
My detective was 40 in the first book, published in May 2007, and will be 42 in the next, for publication in May 2008. I expect he'll age as the rest of us do, one year at a time. When I was in my twenties, I couldn't wait until I turned thirty, perhaps because I loved the black and white comedies of the forties, where the women always seemed to be in their thirties. I decided that my detective had to be at least forty to be taken seriously.
Comment by Charles D. Allen on July 30, 2007 at 4:25am
My protagonist happens to be about my age (30's), mostly because I can relate and know the character better. I do have a variety of characters he looks up to that are in their 50's and 60's that are like sidekicks, I guess. I'd have to admit here that I'm a little too naive to know what it's like to be older than 30, so I feel more comfortable there right now. However, those ages do attract me because of the mystery of their age as well as their wisdom that they can offer.
Comment by Evelyn David on March 30, 2007 at 8:23am
Hi - Great post. Our protagonist, Mac Sullivan, is nearing 50, and Rachel Brenner, the female lead, is in her early 40s. We wanted them both to have been around the block a few times, have weathered their fair share of life experiences, and come out the smarter for them. While we weren't painting banners to announce that older is sexy, we hope that it's conveyed in the warmth, humor, and intelligence of Mac Sullivan and Rachel Brenner. As a counterbalance to these two, we also wrote a group of college-age kids who bring their own sensibilities to the mix. Please visit our web site at www.evelyndavid.com for a sneak peek of "Murder Off the Books."
Comment by Elizabeth Zelvin on March 30, 2007 at 5:19am
Jochem, I wonder if you've come across two wonderful novels from the mid-90s by Milton R. Bass, The Half-Hearted Detective and The Broken-Hearted Detective. The protagonist is a cop who has to quit after a heart attack and becomes a PI.. He's Italian from a big family, and the threats to his life include not only the enemies of the mob boss who hires him but his mother's wonderful cooking.
Comment by Jochem van der Steen on March 30, 2007 at 1:44am
I used to enjoy younger characters, in their twenties (and more my age then). One of the reasons I created Noah Milano is the fact that I felt the PI genre needed a younger, more MTV version of a PI who liked rock and knew the internet because most PIs I knew were 40+ and liked jazz and carried no cell phone.
Recently I seem to be drawn to characters in their late fifties or older (like John Harvey's Frank Elder) and my new dutch novel will feature a lead character that is 55 and has a heart condition.

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